A poster for ‘The Shape of Water’ in China unwittingly swears at the audience

Society & Culture

There are three days to go until the Chinese release of The Shape of Water, the fantasy drama film that won the 2018 Oscar award for Best Picture. A marketing campaign is in full swing, with a five-day countdown that started on March 11. The ads include digital movie posters that show movie scenes that reference a series of numbers:

On March 11, a poster with five eggs suggested that the movie would be released in five days.

0065fpvjly1fpbaixlymhj30sg11yk5mOn March 12, a poster with raindrops photoshopped on a bus window in the shape of the numeral 4 furthered the countdown.

0065fpvjly1fpbaixmnw7j30sg11ywtiToday’s poster, however, while it looks innocent enough at first glance — it shows the protagonist, Elisa, holding up three fingers — actually shows a profanity on screen. In the movie, this image comes from a mesmerizing scene in which Elisa, who is mute, using American Sign Language (ASL) to say “F**k you.”

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In all fairness to the poster creators, the sign language for the letter F does look almost identical to the way that many Chinese people gesture for the numeral 3. But this is a mistake that could have been avoided if the Chinese promotion team behind The Shape of Water had spent two hours watching the film. And in this case, they apparently didn’t bother doing it before kicking off the rollout.

On Chinese social media, the misuse slipped the attention of most moviegoers who haven’t watched the movie yet and know little about ASL, except a fairly small group of movie fans who are aware of the specific context where the hand gesture appears in the movie.

A user of Douban.com, a culture-focused website that hosts one of China’s best film-rating platforms, commented on the preposterous poster: “I rated this movie five stars, but this poster is unbearable.”

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